Watching and supporting a family member or beloved friend experience grief and loss can be difficult. I know firsthand. Two people I adore and love are experiencing painful losses, and there have been many times that I wanted to do something to help them, but all I can offer is a listening ear.
There are times we want to help but we don’t want to intrude. We are at a loss of what to say and unsure of what to do. Sometimes we do nothing at all because we don’t want to make things worse. Although we will not be able to take the pain away, we can still listen. It’s okay to ask them, “do you want to talk?” If they don’t want to talk, they will let you know. When you get into those conversations, be sure to avoid responding with these comments:
Instead of “I know” or “I understand” try asking, “how has this been for you?”
The reality is grief and loss is different for every person so you don’t know or understand their unique experience.
Instead of “You must feel _______” try asking, “how do you feel?” or “most people have strong feelings, how has this been for you?”
It’s never helpful to tell people how they feel in any life experiences; this holds true for those experiencing the pain of loss. Grief is personal and belongs to them. They may feel a lot of different emotions at one time. Allow them to name their own feelings.
Instead of “He’s no longer in pain, he’s in a better place”, or “it’s part of God’s plan” try asking, “what memories do you have about___?” or “what have you been thinking?”
If you try to help them to focus on the good things, it doesn’t allow them to stand in their truth – they are hurting! Allow them to express their true feelings whatever they may be
Instead of “You should or must get on with your life” try asking, “Have you thought about….?”
First, there are no must’s and should’s in grief. Second, it’s not your job to solve it. In fact, you aren’t going to be able to fix it. Grief is a process and takes time. If you are concerned for their emotional and mental health, you may try starting with, “have you thought about or considered…?” In this way, you aren’t telling them what to do; you are only exploring options.